by Pat Rodgers
Row after row of empty pint, quart, and jelly jars sit in my pantry ready to be filled with the abundant summer’s harvest of vegetables and fruits. The possibilities seem endless. How do I capture summer in a jar and where do I begin? It is a question threaded throughout my life.
As I ponder it, my mind goes back to my childhood years spent in North Louisiana in the Red River bottoms. We lived in Wardview – a tiny community that consisted of two grocery stores and my daddy’s cotton gin. Our little house was located on the gin lot.
I remember so well the summer of 1955 when I was a gangly 10-year-old. My dad, Grady Baker, and my mom, Zora Baker, and I piled in our red and white ’55 Ford Fairlane and headed to my grand-parent’s house in Central Texas.
Carlton was a spec on the map where Carley and Olive Moreland owned a grocery store. They had a few milk cows and a large garden. It was pea-picking season when we arrived and I remember a table filled with vegetables.
There was squash, baked fresh corn, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and of course black-eyed peas. Hmmm… black eyed peas, I wasn’t sold on those. When I resisted, Olive was determined I’d eat every last one, so, she got out her freshly canned sweet pepper relish and suggested I try it.
I was a pickle addict, and the relish was just what I needed to make them palatable. I had so many helpings of peas topped with relish that I broke out in a rash. I learned the importance of moderation that summer!
My grandparents had a storm cellar and they lined the steps with her home preserved vegetables, jams, and pickles. My favorite was canned muscadine grapes. Olive made heavenly green grape cobbler from the vines that grew wild on the pasture fence.
My own mother learned well from her mom and she became an outstanding home economics teacher. She graduated in 1936 from North Texas State Teacher’s College with a BS in Food and Nutrition. She taught high school girls good nutrition and the art of creating a beautiful table for more than forty years.
While she was a great teacher, her organizational skills left something to be desired. I treasure the many hand written recipes she left me on the back of phone books, check books, note cards and any scrap of paper she could find. Today, I feel her presence, as I use measuring cups, spoons and mixing bowls from her cooking labs.
My Own Journey in Canning
To recapture those childhood days, I set out to learn how to preserve and can foods. Jams, sweet lime, dill, bread and butter, and squash pickles. - I preserve all these today using family recipes.
I found the tradition of canning and preserving very rewarding and for several years have visited our Farmers Market located at Chestnut Square in McKinney.
My favorite produce farmer is Gilbert Pruitt of Local Family Farms, Princeton. Each week I bring home seasonal specialties like cucumbers, squash, plums, tomatoes, peas, beans, and okra. I turn these into jars of pickles, relish, and jams that I share during the holidays with friends and neighbors.
While summer’s abundance of amazing produce can keep us busy canning and pickling nonstop, each season brings its own special flavors and delicious colors. Fall and winter canning will brighten the winter months by capturing the tart sweetness of apples, cranberries, grapes and pears.
We have good friends with young children who have enjoyed my squash pickles for several years. Audrey, the mom, asked if I would share the recipe and teach her how to make them. We set the date and I bought a half bushel of beautiful yellow squash from farmer Pruitt.
I determined that the best way to share the squash experience with her and perhaps others was to create a YouTube video. The family loved the video and for those of you who feel inspired to try my grandmother’s squash pickles, I am including the link in this article https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sss0JxnLgZI.
Canning is a family activity that can be passed from generation to generation. I cherish those childhood memories from my family’s kitchens and I find sharing special food gifts with friends and family very rewarding. Join me and let’s make memories in the kitchen for our children and grandchildren.